Really gay games.
Thanks to the championship victories of a volleyball team composed almost entirely of gay men, transvestites, and transsexuals, Thailand's queers have gained dignity, acceptance, and ... shopping perks. "If we go to a bar or shop, the owners will give a discount for everybody on the team!" grins Phromsit Sittichumroenkhun, one of the stars of director Yongyoot Thongkongtoon's film The Iron Ladies, a quirky, perky drama about the team.
Known as "katoeys"--the Thai designation for effeminate men--young gay boys Jung and Mon are repeatedly rejected when seeking to play on volleyball teams, until the arrival of lesbian Coach Bee. Soon they're joined by Nong, an army man with splendidly manicured nails and the ability to burst a ball with one, er, blow; Wit, a Thai-Chinese closet case preparing for marriage; Pia, a stunningly beautiful transsexual cabaret star on the skids; and April, May, and June, a petite, color-coordinated trio. Faster than you can say "katoey, kablooey," the Iron Ladies volley their gay way to 1996's national championships!
Yes, this really happened.
Thongkongtoon, a director of commercials, heard tell of the victorious Ladies on popular Thai talk shows and approached the studio that had snagged the story rights. The script he was given was a formulaic comedy, he says, with a traditional boy-meets-girl story. But Thongkongtoon, who's straight, felt the theme of acceptance--not to mention authenticity--was much more important. So he overhauled the screenplay, adding an inspiring musical number to boot.
"Basically, the details I got from the real-life members," he says. "But I put on some seasoning, like when you cook, to make it more tasty."
In preparing for the film, Thongkongtoon and his cast trained for about three months, learning both volleyball skills and "katoey" ways from the real-life Iron Ladies, who are seen during the film's closing credits. "The real team members said the actors' characters are kind of like them--but not as sissy," Thongkongtoon recalls. "If the actors and real members were identical, the whole team would be very sissy and squealing."
Yes, the director confesses, he did audition gay performers for the roles, but most didn't bring enough "drama" to the roles. Besides, he adds, straight actors--such as Thai rock star Sahaparp Virakamin, who plays Mon--help hetero audiences see past their characters' "squealing" to their common humanity. "Sahaparp got more girl fans from the movie," Thongkongtoon notes. "They said the role he played is so feminine that they feel he is one of their girlfriends."
Transsexual catwalk model and TV actress Gokgorn Benjathikul won the role of Pia, while out gay stylists and identical twins Phromsit and Suttipong Sittichumroenkhun and their strangely identical-appearing chum Anucha Chatkaew portray the effervescent, couture-crazy "triplets." "I wanted to give them some role because they're so special," Thongkongtoon smiles. "They have about 20 outfits in the movie but not many in real life. Since they're stylists, they can recycle so that I can't [tell]."
Thanks in part to the real-life Iron Ladies and the film, Bangkok has a popular annual gay pride celebration, while other gay athletes--including a champion kickboxer--have flourished. "Buddha teaches us to see no black or white," Sittichumroenkhun quips, a bag of just-purchased H&M clothing in hand. "Follow the middle, not too extreme left or right. That makes people more broad-minded in society."
THE IRON LADIES * Directed and cowritten by Yongyoot Thongkongtoon * Starring Chaichan Nimpoonsawas, Sahaparp Virakamin * Strand Releasing * September 7 (N.Y.) September 14 (S.F.), September 21 (L.A.)
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|Title Annotation:||'The Iron Ladies' portrays gay volleyball team|
|Publication:||The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)|
|Article Type:||Brief Article|
|Date:||Sep 25, 2001|
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